The boys volleyball teams from North Allegheny and Ambridge entered Tuesday's PIAA semifinals with a chance to earn a return trip to the state finals. Both were successful, but the two teams took a different path to the victory.
Defending PIAA Class AAA champion North Allegheny earned its third title berth in four years with a 3-2 come-from-behind win against Landisville Hempfield in a semifinal match Tuesday night at Altoona High School.
The Tigers will face Central York in the Class AAA Championship on Saturday.
Hempfield jumped out to a 2-0 lead with narrow victories of 25-22 and 25-23. North Allegheny, the WPIAL's Class AAA champion eight consecutive years, tied the match at 2-2 with wins of 25-23 and 25-14. The Tigers clinched the victory with a 15-10 win in the fifth set.
"It's truly phenomenal to be back in the finals," North Allegheny coach Dan Schall said. "The kids kept their poise when we fell behind 2-0 and battled back to pull out the victory."
David Haas led North Allegheny with 24 kills, while Mitch Higgins and Brendan Brown contributed 18 and 10.
The victory also earned North Allegheny a share of a PIAA record. The Tigers are now tied with Peabody for the most PIAA title match appearances, with 14. Peabody made 14 appearances in the final from 1942-64, and won eight titles. North Allegheny has made 13 title match appearances and claimed five titles.
Central York secured its spot in the final with a convincing 25-23, 25-18, 25-21 semifinal sweep of District 1 champion Central Bucks West. The Panthers, District 3's champion, earned their 11th title berth and first since 2011.
Ambridge, last year's PIAA Class AA runner-up, earned a return trip to the title match with a 3-1 semifinal win against Derry Area. It was a rematch of the WPIAL title match, held 10 days ago. The two teams also met in a non-league match during the regular season, and Ambridge won all three sets.
"One of our goals was to make it back to the PIAA finals and bring home the state title this time," Ambridge coach Glenn Freed said. "We're one win away from reaching that goal. The kids are looking forward to the rematch with Northeastern."
Ambridge posted a 25-23 win in the first set and Derry claimed the second set, 30-28. The Bridgers responded with wins of 25-21 and 25-23 to clinch the victory. Lee Smith led Ambridge with 20 kills, while Brandon Buck had eight. Shawn Butter recorded seven blocks for the Bridgers.
Northeastern, District 3's champion, defeated Ambridge in last year's state title match. The Bobcats earned their third title berth in five years with a 25-13, 25-9, 25-15 domination of District 2 champion Holy Redeemer, in a semifinal match played at Bethlehem Catholic.
Both title matches will be Saturday at Penn State's Recreation Hall.
The Class AA final is scheduled for 11 a.m., followed by the Class AAA final at 1 p.m.